Kansas was an interesting band and one that has been around for a good while. And they have been through multiple personnel changes and changing fortunes, as all bands do.
But, there were a few years in the 70s when they excelled. Therefore, over such a lengthy period, there are plenty of options when considering the Top 10 Kansas songs.
- A Balancing Act
- The High Point
- How Would You Describe Them?
- Top 10 Kansas Songs
- Need More Great Rock Bands and Songs?
- Top 10 Kansas Songs – Final Thoughts
A Balancing Act
As an AOR/Prog Rock band, keeping the respect of fans, and trying for some commercial success is a difficult balancing act. Not many achieve it. British band Yes managed to get plenty of worldwide airplay, maintained their status, and managed hit singles like “Roundabout.”
Kansas was another. They were not quite as progressive in their style as Yes. But, they were more progressive than most of the “Rock” bands around at the same time.
Much of that success depended on airplay which they achieved, and their credibility was established with one song. “Carry On Wayward Son” was one of the greatest tracks of the 70s and is still widely played today. You could say the song made them.
The High Point
Then, they entered a period where the creativity and the songs excelled, and successful albums followed that established their credentials. They weren’t able to keep up the momentum, though, and commercial success diminished. Personnel changes inevitably affected their sound, and the commercial success faded away.
However, they still produced albums that were of a high enough quality for the audience they were aiming for. They split for a year in 1984 but reunited later and are still playing today.
To date, they have released 16 studio albums; the most recent is The Absence Of Presence, released in 2020. There are also nine compilations, seven live albums, and 29 singles.
How Would You Describe Them?
If you are new to Kansas, then the best description I can offer is an American AOR/ Progressive Rock band, with orchestrations, and a little, but very significant violin occasionally. Some refer to them as “the thinking man’s rock band.”
But don’t be surprised if you find yourself humming a hook after you have heard them. They could write catchy tunes as well. And, buried in the lyrics, you might recognize some cryptic references to ancient myths, beliefs, and spirituality.
Furthermore, one of the past members became a minister after leaving the band. But enough of this, onto the best Kansas songs. There are plenty of tracks to choose from, but it’s all subjective, of course. So, here are my picks for the Top 10 Kansas songs.
Top 10 Kansas Songs
10 Icarus (Borne on Wings of Steel)
Let’s start with a bit of Greek mythology and a song from the band’s third album, Masque, released in 1975. The album reached #70 on the American album chart.
Icarus, so the myth goes, was the son of Daedalus. They had escaped from Crete in a story that was supposedly written by the Roman poet Ovid. They are mentioned individually in various Greek myths, including Homer’s The Iliad. But Icarus is most known for not taking the advice of his father to not fly too close to the sun. He does so, and the wax on his wings melts, and he plummets to the sea.
An almost classical start with violin and piano, it feels almost medieval. The song, though, comes away from its introduction and suddenly develops into “Progressive Rock Mode.” There is a certain darkness to the lyrics and the way the song is constructed. And the time changes and alternating instruments are impressive.
9 Journey from Mariabronn
This track was taken from their debut album entitled simply Kansas from 1974. It is a song based on a complex story originally written by the Swiss-German author Herman Hesse, Narcissus And Goldmund, in 1930.
That is a story that centers around two young men. One a monk and the other eager for worldly experiences. It is a moving and sometimes slightly disturbing exploration of the differences that exist in conflicting lifestyles.
What Sets This Song Apart?
This song stands out initially because, at first, you think you might have put on a Yes album instead of Kansas with its prominent keyboard. But then comes one of the highlights of the album, Robby Steinhardt’s violin playing.
The inevitable timing changes, along with intricate drumming and fast-paced bass lines, continue to hold your attention. A group ahead of their time? Maybe not ahead, but if this track is anything to go by, they were right among some of the best Progressive Rock Bands of their time.
8 Reason to Be
Taken from the 1979 album Monolith, I have included this song because the first time I heard it, I knew it was one of those songs you just had to listen to. It was just a surprise to me that it didn’t get the attention it deserved. “Reason to Be” is easily one of the most underrated Kansas songs.
A thoughtful song with lyrics that could mean different things to different people…
Essentially, it is a song about finding out who you are as a person and what makes you happy. And then being able to ignore criticism and do what is best for you.
“Someday something will find you – A magical feeling you could not foresee – You’re falling like a leaf from a tree – The things you thought you needed are fading.” Those words could be applied to yourself. Not every choice we make for ourselves will be viewed positively by others. The song is telling you to pursue what you feel.
But it could also be about the band themselves. Kansas was quite capable of rocking with the best of them but chose a more progressive style because that is what they wanted to play. Kudos to them, I say.
7 I Can Fly
This was a track from their 1995 album, Freaks of Nature, that rather went under the radar. It was the first album in a run of the next 20 years where they would not get a place on the American chart. Other genres had taken the attention. And, in many places, Progressive Rock was seen as outdated and “so-last-year,” as one commentator remarked.
Still, Kansas observed the lyrics on the previous track, “Reason To Be,” and carried on doing what they did. “I Can Fly” is a song about rejection and ridding oneself of irrelevant things. I can think of one or two prominent people that could apply to today. They once again use the example of Icarus and his fall from grace.
“Grounding stages of rejection I am not worthy to have even tried – Help me annihilate this foolish pride where Icarus died.” For those who liked the original Kansas, this was a ray of light, given what was popular in music at the time of its release.
6 The Wall
Nothing to do with Pink Floyd but a track from what I have always thought was their defining album, Leftoverture, from 1976. This is a song about overcoming obstacles that get in your way. It seems that the lyrics have been written with a certain ambiguity to allow individuals to apply their own meanings.
It is about gaining self-realization that will enable you to fulfill your potential. One of the songs they wrote with a certain spirituality to it. And, easily one of the Top 10 Kansas songs.
5 Miracles out of Nowhere
Let’s stay with the Leftoverture album for this track. Some consider it to be a concept album, and in some ways, they are right. This is another song that touches on the search for ourselves and the need we seem to have to believe in something. A theme that is often seen in the greatest songs by Kansas.
Every verse touches a different part of our psyche that affects our belief system. From the beauty of nature to our own aging, and finally, the futility of our existence and what we achieve.
When you coming home now, son? the world is not for you – Tell me, what’s your point of view? – Tell me now, dear Mother, what’s it like to be so old? – Children grown and leaving; seems the world is growing cold – I sang this song a hundred, maybe a thousand years ago – No one ever listens – I Just play and go.” The album reached #5 on the American album chart.
4 Silhouettes In Disguise
This is a track taken from a bit later on in the band’s history, from the album Power, released in 1986. The style had changed a little by this time, and the progressive ideas of the past had been watered down a little.
This may have been caused by Steve Morse joining on guitar, who was more Straight Rock-oriented. He later went on to join Deep Purple in the 90s. There were other new members as well, which undoubtedly had an effect.
I have included it here because it demonstrates how the band changed in the 80s to a much more Hard Rock sound. Of the tracks from that period, this is probably the best.
3 Cheyenne Anthem
One of my favorites of all their tracks, and another from Leftoverture. Not released as a single, it is nevertheless a stand-out track from an already brilliant album written by Kerry Livgren. It is a song that brings home just how badly the American Government treated the Cheyenne and other tribes. Fortunately, some efforts have been made to alleviate that situation now, which should be applauded.
It is supposed to bring a sense of truth and reality to a nation where some still seem to want to hide from their past. Not an uncommon attitude in some Western nations. I even read one commentator saying the Western European settlers fought them and took their lands.
Not quite the case…
Let’s just clarify that. This is from Britannica, “From 1857 to 1879, the Cheyenne were embroiled in raids and wars with U.S. military troops; the conflicts often caused suffering for civilians, including Cheyenne and settler women, children, and elders.”
The song goes, “Soon these days shall pass away – For our freedom we must pay – All our words and deeds are carried on the wind – In the ground our bodies lay – Here we’ll stay.” A bittersweet song, and, as I say, a highlight from a great album.
2 Dust in the Wind
This track may well have been the number one Kansas song on this list if it wasn’t for the Rock masterpiece that is in the top spot. It was taken from the album Point Of Know Return and released in 1978. The single reached #6 in America and was their only Top 10 release. The album reached #4 and was a platinum seller.
The song is an acoustic rendering that has a very biblical meaning…
The inevitability of death and the insignificance of humans in the scheme of things are the main themes.
“Now, don’t hang on – Nothing lasts forever but the earth and sky – It slips away – And all your money won’t another minute buy.” It draws reference from the biblical quotation often spoken at funerals, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”
They are not trying to be morbid; they are just trying to jerk those who have over-inflated importance of themselves back to reality. “You can’t take it with you” is the expression some use.
1 Carry on Wayward Son
Nowhere else to finish, is there? The first track on that memorable album, Leftoverture. It was their first single release in the UK and managed to reach #51. In America, it went to #11. It is one of those songs that has got everything. Some might call it one of the ultimate Rock songs. Others call it the greatest Kansas song ever.
There are quite a few versions of the song. Some are longer than others, but as long as that guitar riff and the excellent harmonies are there, the longer it goes on, the better. The track introduced many people to Kansas and still does. A 70s Rock masterpiece.
Need More Great Rock Bands and Songs?
Well, check out our thoughts on the Most Famous British Rock Bands, the Best 60s Rock Bands, the Best 80s Rock Bands, the Best 70s Rock Bands,and the Best 90s Rock Bands to discover more incredible Rock Music groups.
Also, take a peek at our comprehensive look at the Best Classic Rock Songs, the Best 70s Rock Songs, the Best 80s Rock Songs, and the Saddest Rock Songs for more awesome Rock song selections.
And, of course, you’ll need to listen to them. So, take a look at our in-depth reviews of the Best Headphones for Music, the Best Headphones For Rock & Metal Music, the Best Headphones with Volume Control, the Most Comfortable Headphones, and the Best Headphones Under $200 you can buy in 2023.
Top 10 Kansas Songs – Final Thoughts
The best band you may never have heard of. For some, that is how they could be described. There is at least one person I know who has heard the name, but that is all, and he wasn’t familiar with the music.
For those of you hearing them for the first time, or those that only knew “Carry On Wayward Son,” hopefully, this list of the top songs by Kansas has been an eye-opener. If you want to hear more, then a good place to start is 26 Greatest Hits of Kansas.
For those of you already familiar with their work, then I am preaching to the converted. You will know what this great band was all about. Their lyrics could be contentious to some. I have included some tracks here to highlight, but only for reference. They are a band that cared about issues and wrote songs about such things. Nothing wrong with that.
So, until next time, happy listening.